Sheriff Mike Harrison said it is difficult to police the busy Gulf County summers – especially when the Sheriff’s Department is understaffed. Now that tourism has picked up year-round, the sheriff and local lawmakers are looking to expand their revenue sources.
In a regular session meeting on Sept. 28, Harrison and County Administrator Michael Hammond addressed the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners with a proposition.
“If we want to request a local bill on the TDC public safety funding, now would be the time,” Hammond said. “I would recommend that we ask our legislative delegation, Rep. Shoaf and Sen. Ausley, to push a bill... that allows a percentage, I think it’s up to 10 percent, to be used for public safety – for law enforcement, EMS and fire.”
The bill, should the local delegation take it up, would follow similar legislation that has been sweeping coastal panhandle counties for the past several years. Most recently, in 2018, Bay County designated dollars from the Tourist Development Council tax for use by the local sheriff’s office and law enforcement agencies.
Gulf County would become the fourth Florida county to allow bed tax revenue be spent on public safety, which is typically not allowed since legislation blocks the use of TDC funds for items covered in a county’s general budget.
The Sheriff’s Office will receive more dollars from the County this year than last. Even so, Harrison said it is going to be difficult for deputies to keep up with the additional strain of weekend visitors.
“When you look at our population, and you look at our officer per person, it seems to be in line,” Harrison told the Star. “But when you compound that with busy holiday weekend tourists – it just stretches our resources very thin.”
The sheriff explained that often traffic alone in peak tourist season creates a large burden on the Sheriff’s Office, which usually has three or four officers working at a time. “We don’t have the time to do the proactive patrol that I wish we could do,” he said. “So many times, it’s just reactive with our deputies hustling calls, one right after the other.”
A motion was made by District 5 Commissioner Phillip McCroan and seconded by District 3 Commissioner Patrick Ferrell to allow Hammond and other county representatives to request appropriate action from state lawmakers.
Harrison said he had spoken to State Rep. Jason Shoaf (R – Port St. Joe) since the meeting, and county officials plan to meet with the delegation in the next few weeks.
“I believe this is where we, as a county, need to go, and not let all that responsibility for law enforcement, for public safety, fall on our taxpayers,” Harrison said. “I think there needs to be other sources, and this is a prime example.”
“When you look at it, and you can see even with a full 10 percent, it’ll get a couple positions. It’s not going to fix everything, but it’ll be a start in the right direction.”